Tracks of My Life: Davie Gardner

Of all the people associated with the music scene in Shetland, none is more significant than Davie Gardner, the busiest promoter on the isles. He was keen to do this interview, but finding a slot in his packed schedule of things proved difficult. However, Jeff Merrifield eventually caught up with him, sat him down in the Bop Shop and fired off some questions, before he had to rush off to his next meeting. As was to be expected, Davie’s tastes in music have grown with the years and he is as enigmatic now as he has ever been. You’ll be sure to enjoy his choices.

I was born in Lerwick, so I’m born and bred a Shetlander. My parents lived in Bressay and I lived there. I got married in 1980 and I was working for Shell. A couple of years later, I got the chance of a supervisor’s job, but had to move to Lerwick to do it; and I’ve lived here ever since.

As far as music is concerned, my mam and dad had one of those old-fashioned radios, and I can always mind turning the dial on that radio looking for music. This would have been about 1962, the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and I’d be about six at the time. There was no TV then, so there was no access to music there, so what we heard was on the radio. My father was a big Scottish dance music fan, Andy Stewart, Calum Kennedy, Kenneth McKellar, that style of thing. Later on, I once sat on the next table to Calum Kennedy at some do or other and I got him to sign the programme for my old man. Quite an incredible moment. Back then, though, it was the music that there was. I kinda liked it, but there was nothing else.

One day, my old man came home with a pile of 78s, the old records, and among them were a couple by Hank Williams. This would have been about 1965/66 and I was just absolutely blown away. It was something I had never heard before, great voice, and there was something that resonated with me about the country music. There was something about the words that I loved, even though I was only 10 at the time. This was great music. I only found out later how troubled Hank Williams was, but I ken that, even then, at 10, I thought that this was a guy with a problem. It was there in his voice, his style of singing.

Now, that kind of left me wanting to explore for musical things on my own. I came across Johnny Cash and loved him. And at that time, listening to the pop music that was around, you were beginning to hear The Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I really liked the Rolling Stones, but then I didna really care much for The Beatles. That changed, later, but it was very much veered towards country music in the early days. I remember the first time of hearing Creedence Clearwater Revival and seeing this as a way of moving from liking country music into liking rock.
Simultaneously, there was rock’n’roll. I had a fantastic love of rock’n’roll. There was a tremendous programme on the radio on Sunday afternoons, for a few months, I think maybe on the Light Programme, called The History of Rock’n’Roll, and I came to that and first heard Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran and Chuck Berry. Immediately, I thought this music is what I want. And my father kinda liked it as well. It was the music I was bringing to him and it wasn’t a million miles different from country music. He’d been listening to Jim Reeves and Hank Williams, and liked that. I brought Johnny Cash to him and he thought that was, okay.

When I went to the Lerwick School, in 1968, and that was a sort of eye-opener. I was meeting people who talked about music and stuff. Up until then, I’d just been on Bressay and my friends didna listen to much music and certainly didna talk about it. And you didna have the money to buy it, you were too young to buy it. But then Radio One came along, we had telly by then and there was Top of the Pops, and suddenly you were hearing new things. The two things that changed things for me were hearing Cream for the first time.

I didna know what it was, and I didna care too much for it, but then I heard Sunshine of Your Love, which really made me sit up. There always seems to be a track that gets me into something, and that was it, for me. And then, of course, you go back to everything else and find what you were missing. And the other thing, the really seismic shift, came when I heard Jimi Hendrix on Top of the Pops and thinking, what the hell is this? He was playing Hey Joe, his first single, and it was so alien. I can’t say I really liked it, when I first heard it, but I liked the look of him and I wanted to like it, I was determined to understand it. And I did, eventually. Soon after Voodoo Child became one of my favourite records of all time, one of the all-time great tracks and some fabulous guitaring. He performed that on the Lulu Show.

That whole time was when I was hearing bands that would influence me to listen to everything that I have been listening to since. The Creedence, the Cream, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, all of that, and Johnny Cash. I still loved country music. And then you had the likes of Gram Parsons. Then Prog Rock came along, I loved Yes and I loved Genesis, and I still do today. And, of course there was still the love of the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. The Sergeant Pepper album of The Beatles really made me sit up and like them.

On the back of all that, I got into punk rock, I heard the Sex Pistols, and just as it had been with Jimi Hendrix, here we were saying, what the heck is this, again. These are the big moments of music. It never happens now, unfortunately. That excitement of finding new things started to fade in the 1980s. But the full era of the late 60s and the 70s, that was my absolute favourite time for discovering new music.

If I was to pick any tracks from that time they would all be from that era. Those jaw-dropping moments when you just come across something that musically changes your life. David Bowie did it to me and Joy Division, but they were a short-lived thing, not around for long. Nirvana came pretty close to it, but they were never that “jaw-dropping moment” for me. That mid-seventies thing, when there was the Sex Pistols, Patti Smith, The Clash, Talking Heads, that was a helluva time. There was something that was new every week. Ah, Patti Smith, she is my favourite female artist of all time. And still going strong.

I loved the stuff that grew out of punk, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, they werna punk, but they thrived in that era by being different.

I started doing the BBC Radio Shetland Rock Show and soon after started promoting. We did the Rock Show on a Friday night, different themes, different topics, new releases. We started getting CDs fae loads of Scottish bands. One of them was a band called the Hunt Family. They were from the Glasgow area. We loved their stuff and they asked if anybody did promotion in Shetland. We said that we thought bands just came up here off their own bat. They asked to let them know if we thought of anybody.

John Robertson, at the radio station, suggested that we took the lead on this and book them. I was working for Shell at the time and also for Radio Shetland and I thought, why not? It went well and we had them back two or three times, and then other bands started to ask us. It all snowballed from there.

We were probably bringing up three or four bands a month. Whenever we got a band up, we just had to say they were from Glasgow and we sold out! We started getting more and more bands on offer, some of them names, and we just negotiated hard and brought them up. On and off, I’ve been doing it ever since. There was a demand for good bands to come here and nobody else was making it happen. They could have promoted themselves, but we could help, we knew the halls, we knew where to get the PA and stuff, Stevie Hook, mostly. So they worked with us.

I’ve never been a musician, but have always enjoyed putting musicians on. As long as you knew your heart and soul was in it, that’s what was important. And then, I took on the music development job at Shetland Arts, and this was a job in music that I wanted to do. A lot of people got behind me, helped and advised me. We developed a lot of music. It was a great moment getting hold of the music development job and it was a wrench to leave it. But it needed new faces and I went back to promoting through my own company. I’ve loved every minute of it.

I very nearly changed one of my choices at the last minute, because I’m a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I love everything he does. I didn’t change it as I couldn’t think of one track. All his albums are great and they stand up as albums. He’s not a singles man. And I love him for his albums, not for any tracks that stand out individually. But if I could have an extra, for a treat, any song by Bruce Springsteen will suit me fine.


You Win Again
Hank Williams
Fantastic lyrics, heartbreaking lyrics. Probably one of the greatest country songs ever, written by the greatest country songwriter ever. I was fascinated by Hank Williams, by his character, dark and deep, he was the first real rock’n’roll casualty. Incidentally, that was one of the 78s my dad brought to me, so it was the first Hank Williams I liked and still love.

Voodoo Child
Jimi Hendrix
It was hard to pick a track to represent the sixties. It might have been Creedence Clearwater Revival doing Bad Moon Rising, but I’ve played that track to death, and remembering how I felt when I first heard Hendrix, it has to be Voodoo Child, the impact at that time. The song was incredibly poignant for me. We were sitting watching the TV, in September 1970, and the news came on that he had died. And the news played out with that song, which had been a relatively new song, and for me it’s always been associated with the day that Jimi died. It was such a great moment in rock music and one of the most brilliant guitar solos. He was such a flamboyant and brilliant personality, incredibly photogenic. A real rock star, and yet he brought together rock and blues and jazz and everything.

Anarchy in the UK
The Sex Pistols
This just has to be one of the most audacious records to change the course of history. I actually heard it before all the rumpus on the Bill Grundy Show, so I didna come to them through all the controversial stuff. John Peel played it first and I heard it on his programme and I thought, rock’n’roll is back. Even though I had liked that stuff with Yes and Genesis, it was all stating to get boring, a bit indulgent. The best albums had been made and you thought how much of this stuff do you need? I had liked Dr Feelgood at the time, good old pub rock, and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, they’d made a big impact. Then this came blasting through. I thought Johnny Rotten was one of the best rock’n’roll voices I’d ever heard and the power of the bass and drums. They were a great rock band. For me, it was like hearing Chuck Berry for the first time, but louder and a lot more powerful. Anger – I thought somebody’s angry, this is great! Probably one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands ever.

David Bowie
For me one of the most consistently brilliant rock stars. I liked all the early stuff, new and fresh, but when he got to Ziggy Stardust that was just fantastic. Gobsmacking, both in terms of the quality of the music, the production, the visual images. This was long before you had your video specially made, which often ruined the music. These guys enhanced the music with their theatricality and visual presence. David Bowie for me was just incredible, absolutely incredible, and everything he did moved him on in a new direction. He had all those styles and then he got to a new thing with Heroes. That for me was another of those moments. A perfect song with that voice of his. Great stuff.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash
The Rolling Stones
They were such a big part of my life. I loved them far more than The Beatles. Probably Paint It Black was the first track I kent, but I’ve liked most things they’ve done. I liked Satisfaction, but for me you can’t get beyond the pure rock’n’roll of Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The Stones at their peak. They were absolutely amazing. I’ve seen them perhaps half a dozen times and I never get tired of seeing them.

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